Monday, January 09, 2012

The most mysterious mystery

Today's Feast (and it's a huge one) can be a real puzzler: Why would Jesus be baptized? Of course, John the Baptist  had pretty much the same question, and all he was told was to "give in for now." In retrospect (thanks to the writings of those brilliant and holy men we call the Fathers of the Church), we can recognize what was going on--especially when we look at this mystery in the light of the Christmas Season that it is always connected to.
It's pretty much what Paul wrote about, using a different image: "Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave..." (cf. Phil. 2).
That self-emptying was why angelic choirs had to be sent to sing "Glory to God in the Highest" over a stable where a nondescript baby boy was sleeping. That self-emptying sent the Magi to their knees before a toddler, after they had first gone to a royal palace looking for someone so significant that his birth made its mark in the heavens. And that self-emptying was at play when Jesus stepped into the Jordan,  one more Galilean in a crowd of sinners who genuinely wanted to receive the Kingdom of Heaven like little children.
Because Jesus "emptied himself" to share everything that is ours as human beings (everything that is truly human), he becomes the access point for us to share everything that is God's. The "marvelous exchange" the Fathers of the Church wrote about really works both ways.
And so the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a day for us follow Jesus into that River Jordan, not to grovel in our sinful state before John, but to allow Jesus to share the things that make up our daily life. To let our schedule, our commitments, our priorities, our moments of respite be lived in him. This is what he emptied himself for: to take the form!

On Friday, the Vatican released its guidelines for the "Year of Faith" that will open in October. One of the high points I think has spectacular potential is the hoped-for universal day for all Christians the world over to "reaffirm their faith in Christ." This is intended to be an ecumenical celebration, so not just another day for us Catholics to renew our baptismal covenant as we do on Easter, but a day for Christians of every stripe, the world over, to recommit to Jesus every part of their life. (In some parts of the world, of course, it is against the law to commit every part of your life to Christ. I think these are probably the places where we would find the greatest Christian witnesses today.) Anyway, I am delighted by the prospect of a mass, ecumenical profession of faith in Jesus, and I hope to do all I can in my own limited scope to facilitate it.

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